Chapter 48

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Anele rolled a corpse off her back just in time to see a hammer coming down on her head. She didn't dodge so much as lurch out of the way. She heard the crack of the hammer's haft splitting in half and didn't realise she'd snapped it with a fist until she threw the severed hammer head at a mage baring down on her with a bronze sword. 

A spearpoint flashed in her peripheral vision, lancing towards her face, or rather, where her face had been a moment ago. Whoever the spearman was, he wore sandals armoured with bronze scales that bent like tin when Anele stomped them through his foot. Somebody fell off the roof and broke a leg when they hit the muddy street. Somebody charged her from the front and that somebody died.

It wasn't a fight so much as a test of how many of the scavengers could keep their balance on the clay road melting under the Paramount's rain, or if Anele could avoid blinking blood and rain out her eyes long enough to duck the next hatchet or turn a spear aside. A spear cracked from behind, lashing across her lips and drawing blood. She caught it by the fine barbs of its tip and ripped it out of its owner's hands. No point in turning to face an idiot who'd bring a whip to a swordfight.

Anele's fist met the flat of a down-swinging blade and broke it off the hilt. 

Well, a whip to a fistfight. 

Her hands and feet were the first things she'd reinforced with orgone when Older Sister had shown her how, followed by her eyelids, her neck, the length of skin running down the back of her spine, and the spaces between her ribs. She still didn't risk taking a weapon square on if she could afford it. Earthwitches were taught to fight with their bare hands to preserve the purity of their path, not relying on "extra limbs" or "second skins."

That was the coward's way. A rider tried to race around her, so Anele ripped her off the saddle. She landed on her feet, which must have really annoyed her when Anele's shin met hers. One of them cracked on contact. Anele was already jogging to intercept the next rider, so she figured it wasn't her.

"Having fun?" the Airmage yelled from the rooftop.

Ten or more scavengers turned the corner at the end of the street. 

Shit, Anele thought, breathless.

At least fifteen more came charging in after them.

"Earth kill you all," she said, showing bloody teeth, "come at once or save me the trouble and put yourselves down."

A whistle came down from the roof. "Roof's clean. You need help there?"

Anele gritted her teeth. If one of them broke with the force of her gnashing, she'd shove the chips down the Airmage's throat before the day was done.

"Hey! Why don't you do that cool clay thing?"

Two dozen mages of varying skill, weaponry and shade of dress charged at Anele at once. With the heat in her blood, the only thing they had in common was a death wish. But battle blood wasn't a substitute for orgone, and the last thing Anele was going to do was check on her soul. If she didn't have enough strength to take on this new wave, she wanted to die without the embarrassment of knowing just that.

The scavengers were a flood of aura and limbs, jostling and stabbing each other even as they charged at Anele. She took a step towards them, then sunk to a knee. Her torso bent over her knee as if her spine suddenly ran out of the strength required to hold her up. Tapped out. That was true in a way, but she was an Earthwitch, and the earth was right there under her.

Earth? She could almost hear Older Sister stirring in her bones. This is rain-riddled mud, a puddle of clay in the middle of a desert.

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